Does Your Writing Make You Look Like a Player?

You’re watching as the first golfer walks up to the tee box. You watch how he or she starts out.  How confident and how competent he or she appears. His or her attention to the details others may ignore. You can tell, just from how meticulously this golfer takes his or her stance, that this golfer will be a player – or not.

You cannot tell what kind of a person that golfer is from his or her stance at the first tee, but you can anticipate how well you can reasonably expect that golfer to do. Maybe what kind of a player he or she will be. You may even ask yourself, “Would I like to have that person on my team for the next tournament?”

Have you ever thought that your writing can say those same things about you, as well? Do you look like a player?

To begin with, good golfers, indeed good athletes, and good writers, all know that paying attention to the details others let slide, or don’t think matter, is critically important to their success. It is, in fact, a serious part of looking like, as well as being, a player, no matter what the game.

As Pro Golfer Billy Casper once said, “At my first Masters, I got the feeling that if I didn’t play well, I wouldn’t go to heaven.” That’s serious.

So what are the details that others may let slide that you need to pay attention to?

There seems to be a trend toward ignoring what Miss Cooke, my English teacher considered critical: You know what I mean, the grammar, the spelling, the usage, the punctuation – the mechanics of the language. Many folks out there no longer see these issues as very important.

If you want to stand out from your competition for a job, a promotion, or getting that contract, start with the detail that others may let slide. Improve your grammar and usage skills. One place to start is with the quick blogs on this site. Another is to borrow a good English textbook from a friend, or maybe the kids.  Does your company or organization offer workshops, or a tuition reimbursement program? It’s amazing to me that so many people looking for a job do not see the mechanics of the language as being as important as the people doing the hiring do. Go figure!

And certainly co-equal with the mechanics of the language is the strategic side of your business writing. In the business situation, your communication is meant to get results – with your writing and with your speaking. While there are fewer strategic business writing books available, perhaps your librarian, or your favorite bookstore will be able to recommend one. You may want to check out the posts for the last two weeks on this site to get you started. Many of the posts on this site, even the ones listed under a variety of categories, cover a variety of strategic tactics and concepts. Check ‘em out.

  • We said that, “You can tell, from how meticulously this golfer (begins)…that this (person) will be a player – or not.” The business writer does this with the first paragraph.
  • And then we said, “…you can anticipate how well you can reasonably expect that (person) to do.” This you demonstrate somewhat subtly with (a) the “tone” of the piece, (b) the content you elect to include, (c) how well your material is organized and presented, and (d) perhaps the “call to action” at the end, if there is one. The test: If your reader were asked what you said, could that reader give one single, clear sentence to sum it all up?
  • And finally we said, “Would I like to have that person on my team…?” This desirable question, whether you are looking for a job, a promotion, or a contract, should be the result of the piece as a whole. A big part of that must be the clarity of that one-sentence summary the reader takes away in his or her own words, and how quickly he or she “gets it.” What the reader thinks you said is what you said to him or to her.

What do people want to think about the business people they do business withtoday? How about decency, appreciation, honesty, respect, leadership, integrity, excellence – especially in the areas and with the problems you can solve for them.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Your Best Email Strategy

Very few writers realize that there are four different types of email, and that it’s important to determine which type you will be writing before you begin.  Each will be somewhat different from the other three.

The four types of emails are (1) the “original” email, which should be no longer than a single screen to a screen and a half at the very most; (2) the response to the original email, no more than a screen; (3) an attachment, usually a much longer piece; and (4) the cover letter for the attachment, usually a screen or less. Frequently a who-what-when-where-why-how paragraph, no more than five lines,  telling the reader what you are sending, will do it.

Shorter is better today, as long as you cover what needs to be said.

Important as the mechanics of writing are – and they absolutely are – that’s only the first half of what you must know to write effectively – to write for results.

The second part of writing for results is your strategy. So let’s pick up there from last week. For business writing, a well thought out strategy is crucial to getting the results your writing is meant to achieve.

Let’s take a longer look at the starting point for developing a solid strategy,

The Four Critical Questions:

  1. What is the piece I am writing?

Are you using an email when a USPS letter could be more effective? A phone call when a text might get you better, faster results? Are you trying to avoid the personal touch by using an impersonal medium rather than a personal contact? Is email the best way to communicate with your potential reader? It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, and the best way to achieve that goal with this specific reader.

Achieve that goal? While it may seem incontrovertible that of course you want the reader to read what you have written, consider the possibility that your strategy might be better served if that piece is not read at all! I leave that one to you and your good judgment.

So question #1 to ask yourself:  (a) Should I pass this particular piece of information along at all?  (b) If so, should I pass it along in writing? By email? And then, if so,  (c) Do I want the reader to read this piece, or not?

2. To whom?

So who is this prospective reader? Who should he or she or they be? Think about who your real reader is. Are you writing directly to the decision-maker? To the gatekeeper, the person who frequently decides whether or not the decision-maker will get the material you’ve sent? To the influential, the person who has the most “say” in what the decision-maker decides?  To all of the above?

What do you know about the attention span of your potential reader(s)? Does this mean a “just the facts ma’am” communication, or does your potential reader want all the details. And how does he, she, or they want it presented? How long should your piece be if you want your readers to read it?

Question #2 to ask yourself: How will I need to adjust my writing – if it all – based on the answers to these questions?

3. Am I informing? Or persuading?

This decision is possibly the most critical of the four critical questions. Here’s where you break down writer’s block. Here’s where you tighten up your writing. Here’s where you cut to the chase, and quit rambling.

Let’s define “informing” in the context of this discussion. By “informing” I mean you are just providing information. You have no vested interest. What the reader does with the information is up to the reader.

“Persuading,” is a completely different matter. You do have a vested interest. You do care what the reader does with the information you provide.

Think about each of these two pieces:

(1) I am going to write a one-page email to Joe Jones informing him of the changes to our XYZ process (information side).

(2) I am going to write a one-page email to Joe Jones persuading him to implement the new changes to our XYZ process (persuasion side).

How will they differ? How will you write each?

4. Of What? To do what?

Focus in.  (1) On the information side, what are you informing your reader about?  (2) On the persuasion side, what do you want your reader to do? These are really the key questions which, if left unanswered, will keep your thought process in a muddle.

Once you can clarify your answers, a remarkable thing happens: The piece almost writes itself!

Now you’re ready to consider the results this piece needs to achieve; the tone you will use to get those results; and the content you will include, based on the reader’s need and use for this information, and your purpose for writing it.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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The Two Things You Must Know to Write for Results

Thinking back to their school days, many people think of writing as consisting of the traditional mechanics of the language: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage. Sadly, not without some uncomfortable memories.

Fortunately, important as the mechanics of writing are – and they are – that’s only the first half of what you must know to write for results.

The second part of writing for results is strategy. And in many, if not most cases, the strategy behind writing effectively may be virtually overlooked. For business writing, a well thought out strategy is crucial to getting the results your writing is meant to achieve.

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done, just as a shovel, hammer, or rake is a way to get a job done. The two tools you must master on the job are the mechanics, and the strategy of each piece you write.

On the personal level, there is no question that proper use of the mechanics of the English language is critical, both to your being hired in the first place, and to enhancing your chances of promotion once you are on the job. So, just for fun, see how fast you can answer the following three very common mechanical issues (The answers are at the bottom of this post):

Which word (or words) will you use most often: (a) cannot, or (b) can not?

You use “its” when you mean____________, and “it’s” when you mean________.

The comma (,) goes (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“ “), as does the_________, while the _________ and the_________ go (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks.

So, what can you do if you’re not comfortable with your use of the mechanics of the English language?

Find a good textbook. Maybe your kids have a good one. Or ask at your school, library, or bookstore. While there are many good ones available, one I like is “Writers Inc., A Student Handbook for WRITING and LEARNING,” if you can find it.

Obtain a copy of the current year’s style guide your organization uses. Arguably the most common style guide used in business is “The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual,” although your organization may use a different one, may have developed its own style guide, or may not have standardized on a style guide at all. A style guide will answer just about everything you always wanted to know – and probably more. A word of warning: If your boss has immutable preferences, it may be wise to follow them. Your choice.

Finally, if all else fails, you may want to find a good coach, or take a class offered at your organization. Note that in most cases there is a significant difference between academic writing and business writing.

Now, what is your starting point for developing a solid strategy?

To begin with, ask yourself:

The Four Critical Questions:

  1. What is the piece I am writing?
  2. To whom?
  3. Am I informing? Or persuading?
  4. Of what? To do what?
  • So that what will happen?

List the results this piece needs to achieve.

  • What Tone Will I Use to Get These Results?

Tone is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader – what is the relationship you want to establish or reinforce with your reader?

  • What Content Will I Use to Get These Results?

Based on the reader’s need and use for this information, and your purpose.

Wow! So much more to be said about strategy, but this will get you off to a good start this week. Let’s pick up right here next week. See you then!

Answers to the quiz (above):

Which word (or words) will you use most often: (a) cannot, or (b) can not?

You use “its” when you mean possession, and “it’s” when you mean it is.

The comma (,) goes (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“ ,“), as does the period (“ .“), while the colon (:) and the semicolon (;) go (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“  “:), and (“  “;).

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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If It’s Too Good to be True

It probably isn’t true. We talk about discernment, and how important it is to use discernment with information from the Internet. And yet don’t we all wonder, from time to time, just what if we had sent that money to the widow of that government official in who-knows-what country? Maybe, just maybe there was something to it. And if we had just sent that $25, or was it $2500, could we be millionaires today?

Well, maybe we haven’t thought about it, but enough folks have, that your accountant and your bank most certainly have warned you, and the FBI issues regular press releases to warn us all about these online scams, inviting us to “visit our White-Collar Crime and Cyber webpages for more fraud schemes.”

Here are two of the most common “phishing” tactics my accountant sees:

  1. Phone calls or emails from someone claiming to be from the IRS. Don’t fall for this one she warns. Usually the caller threatens some very serious consequences if you don’t send money to clear up the situation, or provide some personal information that would give the caller virtually total access to your finances. The IRS will not contact you by phone, she said.

2. Most often, very little is put in writing. Most illegal contact is likely to be either by phone, or even in person, possibly with someone coming to your home, or to your office.

My banker says some of the clues she sees in the emails brought to her for scam checking include English language grammar, spelling, and usage errors and inconsistencies. She noted that the awkward use of tenses is particularly common. And of course there are always those obvious scams, the “I am the widow of…” emails asking you to send money.

The FBI notes a recent increase in cyber criminals using online photo-sharing programs to infect their victim’s computer with malware. When requested, the cyber criminal will send photos either as an email attachment, or accessible by a link they provide to an “online photo gallery.” The photos may contain the malicious software that affects the victim’s computer.

Bottom line:

  1. Do not click on any email links if you don’t know the sender. The best course is to delete the email without opening it.
  1. Big-time scammers may go to all lengths to get your information. They may pretend to be a legitimate organization you’ve heard of. Their material may appear legitimate, with the website, online “store,” and even technical assistance closely replicating the “real” ones of the legitimate company or organization they imitate. If you did not request this email, double check.

Obtain the “real” contact information from a reliable third party source. If the contact information in the unrequested email does not agree with the “real” contact information, it’s likely to be a scam. Do not provide any information to, or fill out any forms from any company or organization you do not know – no matter how threatening or scary that email may sound.

So, be discerning, and make sure the younger members of your family are as well. They make excellent victims.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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How Gossip Starts, and Rumors Spread

What keeps you up at night? Well, it’s probably not where to put a comma (,), or how to use a semicolon (;). Odds are it’s more likely to be the result of your business writing, or of a piece written by someone else, than the mechanics of what was written.

And that gets us into the discussion of how gossip starts, and rumors spread. For actual examples:

  1. The question asked was whether she used her position to benefit her own business which is illegal.

Oh ho! So in addition to everything else, she was running an illegal business? While the grammatical issue here is the order of the words in the sentence, the very likely result of that error will be all of the unpleasant things that come along with running an illegal business, and not incidentally, the gossip and the rumors. The destruction of her credibility, and her reputation.

In short, this sentence could very well put her out of business altogether – all due to a slight grammatical error that could easily be fixed by rearranging, and slightly changing the wording of the sentence as follows:

The question asked was whether she illegally used her position to benefit her own business.

2. By February 2013, the business relationship had soured, and Smith told Jones he didn’t have any ownership in the company.

What went on here? Who was it who didn’t have any ownership in the company? Did Smith start an argument with Jones because Smith told Jones that Jones had no ownership in the company? Or was Smith offering to make a deal with Jones because he (Smith) had no ownership in the company? Perhaps what the writer meant was:

By February 2013, the business relationship had soured and Smith told Jones that Jones had no ownership in the company.

Or maybe he meant:

By February 2013, the business relationship had soured and Smith told Jones that he (Smith) had no ownership in the company.

And by the way, for all of you grammar catchers, “February 2013” needs no comma, while the actual day, let’s say, “February 12, 2013” does.

3. Jones Coin and Currency, where they want to make sure you don’t get ripped off somewhere else.

Heck no. Give us the first chance. While this is clearly a mistake, it’s always a good idea to ask two or three people to look at what you’ve written before it’s published. The “fix,” of course, is to delete “somewhere else.”

With its obvious error, this sentence goes right along with, “At this price, they won’t last long!” The inference here being that the product is so cheap it will be in the “donation stack,” or the garbage can very soon.

Two of my newspaper favorites are:

4. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver last year showed how the meat is made to horrify a studio audience.

And

5. State attorney Jane Doe, special prosecutor in the John Smith case, announced that Joe Jones will be charged with second-degree murder in the March 16 shooting death of John Doe during a news conference Wednesday in Sacramento, California.

So here, should you choose to accept, is a little homework. How would you fix sentences 4., and 5.? Let us hear from you!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Are You Writing What You Really Mean?

Strange how some of the words and phrases we get in the habit of using mean, or can say something totally different from what we really mean. For example:

  1. Regional phrases are great. They carry a richness, a fullness that adds color, spice, and fun to your writing. They add special flavor – a tone – to what you have to say. For example:
  • She has to pick up the house before going to town. Don’t you just picture a frail-looking little old lady putting a full military press on her house to hold it over her head?
  • John will carry her to town for groceries. (Maybe John is the weight lifter after all.) Then he will tote them into the house for her.
  • You “carry” people (in your vehicle, of course), and “tote” groceries and other non–people things that need to be moved from here to there.
  • Then you can take up dinner, and save back a little something for a midnight snack. (Where is dinner being taken up to, and what is it behind when saved back?)

Think how confusing all of this can be for an English as a second language speaker/reader, who, if he or she were to take all this literally, would be sorely bamboozled! Take heed if you do business, or work offshore.

2. Other phrases can become so habitual that we don’t notice them. But our subconscious does! For example, have you noticed that some people will end a sentence with, “I don’t think”? That phrase is similar to “I’ll have to…” and “I can’t…” in that when you hear yourself saying these things all day long, your subconscious begins to believe them.

Much better to say “I believe…” or “I’ll be glad to…” or “I can….”

Try “I believe she won’t come today…”(Instead of “She won’t come today, I don’t think.”)

Or “I’ll be glad to get that information for you as soon as it’s available.” (Instead of “I can’t get that information for you until it’s available.”

Or “I can have that report on your desk Monday.” (Instead of I can’t get that report on your desk until Monday.”

Present yourself as one who has ideas and expectations; pleasant and willing to do what’s asked; and a positive achiever. The additional bonus: by feeding your subconscious positive, rather than negative words, you’re going to feel better about your job, your life, and yourself.

3. Then there are phrases some people use over and again, being totally unaware of their potential effect on some of their listeners or readers.

One such word is “clearly,” when used to express an opinion, e.g., “Clearly this is entirely the wrong decision if we want to….” When used in this way, “clearly” becomes a shutdown word, inviting no further opinions, and with readers and listeners getting the message that if their opinions differ, their opinions must somehow be sub-standard. It can also engender anger. Neither response is generally what you want.

4. There are words or phrases many of us were taught to use, frequently as children, to be polite.

For example, “Would you like to…”(go to bed now, carry out the garbage, or do your homework)? Today’s responders are as likely as not to say, “no.” And what you were trying to do was tell them in a kind and gentile way, what to do. Not ask them how they felt about it!

So – Are you writing, or saying, what you really mean?

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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8 Ways You Can Eliminate Writing Anxiety

If you are one of the thousands – or perhaps tens of millions – who brave writing anxiety daily, let’s defeat that old dragon right now. Beginning with the next piece you write.

So what are the symptoms of writing anxiety?  How do you know if you’ve got it? Well, probably the two most common symptoms are (1) taking what seems like forever to get started, and (2) that vaguely uneasy feeling that you are “not doing it right,” which usually translates into grammar and usage issues.

And what that means, is you are most likely starting in the wrong place!

Content. Content. Content! Start with the content. You can always revise, or dot the i’s and cross the t’s, after you have made your point quickly, and put your ideas forth clearly. Get the ideas; get that content written down first!

To begin with, ask yourself: What do I want to tell my reader?

For example, you might say,  “I want to tell my reader that, ‘Starting November 1, you must use the XYZ program for your weekly report.’” Focus in on the piece as a whole, and make your answer tight, simple, and straightforward.

This degree of focus, all by itself, is a great confidence builder, and I guarantee that not only will your anxiety began to fade away, but your writing will go faster, more smoothly once you have this tight focus. Without focus, I guarantee that you will continue to be uncertain, and uncomfortable with your writing. Trust me on this.

After considering your reader or readers, the format, and the “job” this piece of writing has to do, you are ready to:

Make a quick list of the points you will use to achieve your purpose. Make each list item very short – only a few words. The items on your list may be in any order.

Remind yourself that at this point, you are the expert, you are the one imparting knowledge that few, if any, of your readers have. This realization is a great anxiety-chaser.

Remember that we are still focused on content at this point, so you are now ready to organize and draft your content. Because of your list, you don’t have to remember, or think up the points you want to make, on the fly, allowing you to concentrate on the best way to make your points.

Do you see where you are now? You are now totally focused on your reader, and on meeting his or her needs. You are no longer focused on whether or not you are “doing it right.” You are focused on the reader. Once you become totally focused on your reader, your anxiety disappears.

So what comes next?

If this is just a short piece – say, five lines are fewer – a single who-what-when-where-why-how paragraph will probably take care of it. Review your short list, and include each of the points. But do it in five lines or fewer.

For a longer piece, review your list, numbering the order in which you will present your points. If you have a fairly long list, it’s likely that two or three of your points may be on the same subject, and belong in the same paragraph. When this is the case, give each of those items the same number to keep them together.

As you did for the shorter piece, start with a who-what-when-where-why-how first paragraph, five lines or fewer.

What you have now is your first paragraph, and the order of, and content for each of the subsequent paragraphs. Write your draft. Let your computer help you check grammar and spelling, then put your own eye on it for a quick double-check. Often you know better than the computer.

Let me know how it goes!

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Is the Kudzu Solution Right for You?

Kudzu. If you’ve flown over the Southeastern United States, and happened to look out the window, it’s likely you saw green, green, and more green. Most likely that was kudzu, “a serious invasive plant in the United States,” which spreads at the rate of 150,000 acres every year, according to Wikipedia.

From its probable beginnings in China, kudzu spread to Japan and Korea. Kudzu was introduced to the United States at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. It was praised as an ornamental plant, easily grown, and perfect for shading southern porches.

It went on from there. Among its many other uses, kudzu was highly valued as protein-rich cattle fodder, and as a no-maintenance cover plant to prevent soil erosion. So effective was kudzu in helping control erosion that the government helped by distributing 85 million seedlings and funded planting them. In short, starting with 1876, kudzu was a pretty good deal. It would grow anywhere, nothing could kill it, and there were multiple uses for it.

Sadly, when the Boll weevil struck, and farmers were forced to move elsewhere, kudzu, with no maintenance or control, was left to its own devices, which were very good indeed. It devoured, covered, and smothered everything in sight, from houses to barns, to fields, trees, and entire forests; the valuable areas it was meant to protect got buried, or were totally destroyed.

And, in 1997, this miraculous vine – kudzu – was placed on the Federal Noxious Weed List, having consumed an estimated 7,400,000 acres of land in the Southeastern United States, and is now found across the country. Talk about unforeseen consequences!

So what does all of this have to with business writing?

That was then, this is now.

In 1876, business writing was far lengthier, far more cumbersome than it is now. Back in the day, there were many stilted phrases signifying little if anything, other than the cultural courtesy standards of the day that were considered a necessary part of the form, if not the message.

As time went by, some of the old phrases dropped out, to be replaced by new ones. Many of them were the words and phrases many of us were taught to use as a necessary part of business correspondence.

And now? Not.

Today’s business writing, while not rude, must be short and make the point immediately to be read at all, let alone to be taken seriously.

Think of the words and phrases – and even the content – that create “overload” for your reader as being like the kudzu, smothering your valuable ideas as they consume, bury, and destroy.

The kudzu solution today seems to be mowing or cutting back. In short, a heavy “edit.” So, if kudzu represents the words, phrases, and content you may be using, what are some of the elements that need to be “mowed or pruned” to help your reader uncover the “valuable areas” – your meaning?

Take a look at some of those phrases we use: “thanking you in advance,” “please feel free to…” “if we can be of further assistance,” and so on. Then include your favorite redundant phrases like, “I am writing to tell you….”

What’s wrong with those?

– You can thank the reader after it happens. In fact, this gives you a good, and pleasant reason for further contact.

– How about that “feel free” bit. Why should your reader not feel free? If the reader reads it literally, “feel free” could even be construed as a put down, so not only is there the issue of using an unnecessary bit of words, but a tonal problem as well.  Fortunately, you’re not in too much trouble, because this extra group of words is so unnecessary it’s just skipped over in most cases, and not read at all. So trim the kudzu! You don’t need it.

-While the idea of offering assistance is pleasant, you could offer it in some other way if you really feel you need to. But if you have provided assistance clearly, understandably, and in appropriate detail (remember that too much can be just as confusing and inappropriate as too little), you don’t need this particular phrase at all.

-In addition, watch out for that word “further.” You may have just told your reader that he or she did not get the job, the loan, or was not accepted for the school of his or her choice. Any further help of this nature is not likely to be welcomed. Your reader may not think you have provided any assistance at this point, let alone want  “further assistance.”

– And finally you do not have to tell your reader you are writing. He or she already knows it.

Share your favorite surplus words and phrases to help other readers recognize some they may be using. Let us hear from you.

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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The Words We Use Reveal How We See Our World: What Do Your Words Say About You?

You know how some conversations have a way of sticking with you? You’ll wake up re-living it in the middle of the night. Or something someone says later makes you think of it? Such a conversation happened to me in class the other day.

A participant in one of my business writing workshops was talking about getting a very expensive speeding ticket. He said “they” were going to charge him several hundred dollars, and that “they” were creating a real hardship for him.

The strangest thing happened. While I heard, and understood every word he said, I also heard my mother, in the background, saying to a four-year-old me, “If you do (whatever it was I should not do) you’ll have to pay the consequences.”

And while the “consequences concept” was a bit murky in my developing vocabulary, I sure as anything knew I did not want to have to pay for them! So what does consequences mean?

This is the point where the conversation kept coming back to me. I asked a number of friends and colleagues what they thought consequences meant. With about a 50-50 split, some thought consequences were punishments. Others thought they were the results of an action (e.g. speeding), or a happening (e.g., a flood).

“Consequences” is a word very much like “criticism.” Both words carry negative connotations for many, and in fact “consequences” is frequently used interchangeably with “punishment,” while “criticism” is often considered to be something negative expressed about someone or something. It’s true that this can be one meaning, but criticism is also “the activity of making careful judgments about the good and bad qualities of books, movies, etc.” So criticism can be good, too.

Let’s take a deeper look at the difference between “consequences,” and  “punishment.”

Again, thank you Merriam-Webster. It sounds to me like the critical difference between these two words is who does what. For example, punishment is “… A penalty inflicted on an offender…” (presumably by an outside source). On the other hand, a consequence is “… Something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions…”  (This could easily be an action done by the person who experiences the consequence(s).

So, a consequence could be a punishment. And a punishment could be a consequence. But not necessarily. We’ve all done things we’ve regretted – sometimes with unexpected, or unintended consequences. Sometimes knowing exactly what consequences to expect. And getting them.

Back to the point: Words create the way we look at our world, and telegraph how we see ourselves relating to it. A consequence may be a punishment – expected or not – that naturally follows some action that in many cases we have control over, and have chosen to do anyway. It is not always something that “they” inflict on us. Frequently we have chosen to bring down the consequence on ourselves.

What do the words we use say about us?

Is every consequence inflicted on us by someone else? A punishment? Or is each of us responsible for some of our own consequences – good and bad?

Sometimes things just happen, with no one responsible, and with no one at fault. How we understand our words, and how we use them can indeed determine how we see these things. What do our words say about our view of the world, and our place in it? Do we accept appropriate responsibility? Or do we see ourselves as victims? What secrets do our words reveal about us?

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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Here’s One Quick Way to Build Your Vocabulary

While it’s not quite 100%, many strange or new words contain secret clues as to what that word is trying to tell you. By knowing the parts the unfamiliar word is composed of, we can frequently figure out the meaning quite easily.

For example, let’s take a look at two words: malware, and malabsorption. Would you like to have either one? I don’t think so! Even though a word may not be an everyday word, we can look at those two words, and get the idea that neither one is very good. In fact, we most likely get the idea that they may be pretty bad. Why? Because of that little prefix “mal.” Why? Because most of the words we do know that begin with “mal,” mean “bad.”

We’ve talked about suffixes and prefixes in earlier posts, and will again. Today let’s take a look at word parts that indicate sections of the human body.

For example: You make a Dr. appointment with a gastroenterologist. Why? Probably because you have a stomach problem. We know that from the “gastro” beginning to this word. “Gastro” has to do with the stomach. So let’s take a quick look at other word parts and see how they relate to the various sections of your body.

How many of these word parts do you know? Test Yourself. Print out this page and write the answers in the blank space following each word. Or just write the answers on a blank sheet of paper.

glos

hema

man

neur

card

corp

dent

derm

osteo

ped

pneuma

psych

How did you do? Here are the answers, using Merriam-Webster as our authority:

glos:  tongue

Glos actually means tongue, comes from the New Latin, and was first used in 1879.

hema:  blood

May also be spelled in “British English” as haema- and is used to form a number of words referring to blood. For example, hematology – a medical science dealing with blood and blood-forming organs. Or, hematocrit, one of the scores you see from your blood tests.

man:  hand

Used in a long string of words, generally referring to “of or relating to using the hands.”

neur:  nerve

First used as a medical term meaning “of, relating to, or affecting a nerve or the nervous system” around 1847.

card:  heart

“Card” brings us words like “cardiac,” “cardiogram,” and “cardiograph,” the machine that produces the cardiogram – all related to the heart.

corp:  body

Anyone who has ever watched a detective movie or program is well aware of what a “corpse” is. And a corpus can be a body of work, such as writings, speeches, and collections of art. “Corp” has been used as a basis for words relating to body since the 15th century, and comes from Middle English, from Latin.

dent:  tooth

Here’s an easy one. We’re all familiar with the words “dentist,” “dental,” and “dental technician.” So when we combine “dent” with the suffixes “ist,” and “al,” the combination gives us “dentist” – one who works with teeth, and “dental” – relating to teeth or to the work dentists or technicians do.

derm:  skin

And so we have “dermatitis,” a skin condition combining “skin” with “inflammation.” Or dermabrasion, a skin treatment involving skin abrasion. Or dermatologist, the physician specializing in skin conditions.

osteo:  bone

Osteoarthritis, osteomyelitis, and osteomalacia are all diseases of the bone. While we might not recognize these words, or know exactly what they mean, we can make a pretty good guess that they are bone-related.

ped:  foot

This one is not so consistent, but is a good starting point that gives us foot-related words such as pedal, pedicab, and pedicure.

pneuma:  breathe

Standing alone, “pneuma” comes from the Greek and means “soul,” or “spirit,” which is not such a stretch to  “pneumatology,” the study of spiritual beings or phenomena. From there to air, which gives us “pneumatic,” or using air pressure to move or work, and on to respiration, or breathing. And to words like “pneumonia,” a serious illness that makes it difficult to breathe.

psych:  mind

Lots of new words have crept into our lexicon, based on “psych” – all having to do with the mind. “Psych-out”; “psych,”as in preparing oneself for mental processes and activities; or “psycho.” The more traditional use is for words like psychology (the study of the mind and behavior); or psychiatry (a branch of medicine concerned with mental or emotional disorders).

Bottom line: Look for the secrets in unfamiliar words, and you’ll make pretty good guesses as to what the word means, especially if it makes sense in the context of the sentence.

 

 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com to learn more.

If this blog post would be useful to your team, please forward it, or drop us an email, and we’ll send them next week’s post for you automatically.

We appreciate your inquiries and referrals.

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